On Friday, 10 people were arrested by Italian police and another 8 are suspected of being members of an armed group that has links to al-Qaeda who plotted attacks in Afghanistan, Pakistan and at the Vatican.
Some suspects, who are all Afghans and Pakistanis, were arrested in raids in the early morning across the country. Italian police burst into the home of the spiritual leader of the group in Bergamo a city in northern Italy,
Though all 18 suspects were plotting the attacks mainly in their own countries of origin, police phone taps have suggested the Vatican had been a target, said a chief prosecutor in Cagliari where the headquarters for the group is located.
The prosecutor said that officials had received indications of a plot on the Vatican back in 2010 by this group, who continued to operate across the country for many years following that.
He said the indications showed of a planned suicide attack in an area crowded with people. Officials in Italy have feared for years of an attack by militants in the Vatican, in particular St. Peter’s Square and have beefed up security in the area
In the conversations that were tapped, the suspects discussed a large jihad in Italy. The word baba, which could mean pope, was mentioned.
Officials were quick to say they do not have proof, but have a strong suspicion the Holy See was a target.
The group apparently had found out law enforcement was watching them.
Italy and other countries across Europe have been on a heightened alert for terrorism schemes following the attack in January on the Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris.
Capitals in Europe are particularly worried of possible militants that are referred to as “Sleepers,” apparently living out a normal life in their country, but at some point might be activated to carry out an attack in his or her own country or abroad.
Officials in Italy have been concerned that terrorist group members could be hiding amongst the thousands of migrants arriving on the shores of Europe each week.